National News

Pell High Court bid stirs public reaction

george pell 2019

Image Credit: AP Photo/Andy Brownbill, File

A fresh wave of abuse survivors is expected to seek legal advice amid news of pedophile Cardinal George Pell's High Court challenge.

Australia's highest court isn't expected to make a decision on Pell's special leave application until next year, but as his high-profile case again hits headlines, lawyers expect the latest chapter to have a flow-on effect.

"We will likely see a spike in inquires from the general public this week," said Slater and Gordon abuse lawyer Nick Hart.

"Bringing this sensitive issue into the limelight once again will bring a strong reaction from the community, given survivors have come forward to tell their stories. And the fact they were brave enough to take on George Pell, gives others strength."

Pell, 78, remains in prison, serving at least three years and eight months, as his legal team this week met Wednesday's deadline to start a High Court appeal process.

He was found guilty by a jury in December of raping a 13-year-old Melbourne choirboy and sexually assaulting another during the 1990s at St Patrick's Cathedral.

The Court of Appeal dismissed Pell's case in a 2-1 ruling last month, upholding the jury's decision that found him guilty of one count of sexual penetration and four counts of indecent acts with a child under 16.

In a 12-page application for special leave to the High Court, Pell's lawyers argue Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and president Chris Maxwell made two errors in dismissing the earlier appeal.

His lawyers, Bret Walker SC and Ruth Shann, say a mistake occurred because Pell was required to prove the offending was impossible, rather than leaving that onus to prosecutors.

Secondly, they argue the judges erred in not finding the jury's verdicts unreasonable, claiming there was reasonable doubt about whether opportunity existed for the crimes to have occurred.

They also claim that changes in law over the decades since the crimes occurred make it more difficult to test sex assault allegations.

They argue Pell should be acquitted of all charges for a number of reasons including inconsistencies in the complainant's version of events.

The High Court will consider the special leave application documents and permit or deny the motion, or may call on parties to hear more information.

If leave is granted, Pell will need to lodge a formal appeal.

The process can take up to six months and is sometimes completed behind closed doors.

"If Pell is found not guilty and it's a successful appeal, abuse survivors could take it the wrong way and there is great concern that an outcome could deter people who have experienced abuse from seeking help, or reporting abuse," Mr Hart said.

© AAP 2019